386 HISTORY OF PERSIA CHAP. ately loosed a hawk and under the pretence of looking for it disappeared from sight and rode off north. He reached Isfahan, a distance of three hundred and sixteen miles, in three days, and almost without halting continued his journey to Mazanderan, seizing a revenue caravan on the way. Upon his arrival in his native province many members of his tribe rallied round him. He was, how- ever, opposed by his half-brother, Murtaza Kuli,1 who proclaimed himself king, and it was not until after many vicissitudes of fortune, during the course of which he was once taken prisoner, that he was in a position to make himself master of the Caspian provinces. The Expulsion of a Russian Expedition by Aga Mohamed^ A.D. 1781.—During this period of his chequered career Aga Mohamed came into contact with a Russian expedi- tion, consisting of four frigates and two sloops, which in 1781 anchored off Ashraff and extorted permission to construct a trading factory. When the fortress—for such it proved to be—was nearly completed, the Khan invited the Russian officers to an entertainment, where they were seized. They were then offered the alternative of either destroying their fort or being hanged. Their choice was soon made ; the fort was demolished, and the Muscovites were driven with contumely back to their ships. The Independent Provinces of Persia.—The series of campaigns culminating in the awful tragedy in the Kerman province described in the previous chapter left Aga Mohamed the victor but hardly the undisputed master of Persia. Before we come to the steps he took to con- solidate his power at home and abroad, it is necessary to give a brief account both of the independent provinces of Persia and also of her neighbours. Khorasan was nominally ruled by the unfortunate Shah Rukh, but in reality was broken up among a number of independent chiefs. At Meshed the two sons of the monarch, Nasrulla Mirza and Nadir Mirza, fought for power, and their feuds resulted in the plunder of the shrine of the Imam Riza, each prince in turn robbing it of 1 His only full brother, Husayn Kuli Khan, the father of Fath Ali Shah, had been killed by the Turkoman at the instigation of the Kajar Khan of the rival brancb> after his flight from Damghan recorded in the previous chapter.